Google: No Need to Update External Backlinks When Changing URL

Oct 28, 2022
5 min read
No Need to Update Backlinks When Changing URL

Google’s Gary Illyes has recently replied to a question on Twitter asking if it was advisable to change incoming links to the SSL version when switching to HTTPS.

This is quite a relevant topic as many webmasters have recently changed over to HTTPS following the HTTPS algorithm that boosted encrypted websites in the search results.

While Gary Illyes admitted there was some benefit, he said that it was minimal and, therefore, “not worth it,” provided you implemented your 301 redirects correctly.

You can see the discussion on Twitter below:

This principle also applies to any change of domain name or URL.

In the next section, we look into whether any PageRank is lost when redirecting to HTTPS.

Ultimately, as you will see, there is none. As such, you will maintain all PageRank if you redirect from HTTP to HTTPS without the need to update your backlinks.

What Percentage of PageRank is Lost When Using a 301 Redirect?

For those that take SEO very seriously, any amount of link power loss is potentially a concern, so what is the damage?

Matt Cutts laid out the position in 2013

Matt Cutts was asked the exact question concerning Page Rank in February 2013; “Roughly what percentage of PageRank is lost through a 301 redirect.”

You can see his reply in the video below:

Let me give you the history on this. At some point, an SEO wrote to me privately and said, hey, I’m wondering how much page rank disappears when you have a 301 redirect.

I wrote back and said, OK, why is that on your mind?

And they said, well, the historical page rank papers always said that 10 percent, 15 percent, whatever amount of page rank gets lost, given any particular link. So from page A to page B, there’s a link. The page rank that flows is, take the page rank and multiply by 0.85, 0.9, whatever it is, and then take the remaining links and divide that PageRank equally between the outgoing links. So a certain amount of page rank dissipates on each link. If 301s don’t have that sort of dissipation, then instead of linking, I should do all my stuff with 301s, and I won’t lose my page rank. And I’ll have 10 percent more page rank, and more things will rank.

And so you don’t want people thinking along those lines, where they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot trying to use 301s instead of links. And so, at the next search conference, where it happened to be convenient, I mentioned that a certain amount of page rank also dissipates through 301s. And unfortunately, then the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. People started to get worried; oh, if I use a 301, how much PageRank do I lose?

And so I sent an email to the team that is in charge of this, and, of course, the implementation can vary over time, but this has been roughly the same for quite a while. The amount of page rank that dissipates through a 301 is almost exactly - is currently identical to the amount of page rank that dissipates through a link.

So they are utterly the same in terms of the amount of page rank that dissipates going through a 301 versus a link. So that doesn’t mean using a 301. It doesn’t mean using a link. It means use whatever is best for your purposes because you don’t get to horde or conserve any more page rank if you use a 301, and likewise, it doesn’t hurt you if you use a 301.

So great chance to just sort of clear that up a little bit. It’s exactly like having a link. That’s the current implementation. We don’t promise that it will be that way for all time and eternity. But I don’t see any reason why in particular, it would change.

As you can see, this implies that slightly more link juice is lost than Gary Illyes suggests.

As Wikipedia’s recent migration clearly showed, I can see the benefit of transferring to HTTPS with the HTTPS ranking boost.

Furthermore, Matt Cutts’s advice is quite old now, so I would be more inclined to listen to Gary’s.

What is the current position?

In 2016, Gary Illyes shared on Twitter that 30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.

The reasoning behind this change was revealed in a Google Webmaster Hangout. In it, Google’s John Mueller responded to a question asking if there was any link equity loss from redirect chains. He said:

For the most part, that is not a problem. We can forward PageRank through 301 and 302 redirects. Essentially what happens there is we use these redirects to pick a canonical. By selecting a canonical, we’re concentrating all the signals that go to those URLs to the canonical URL.

Instead of relying on redirects to determine where PageRank should benefit, Google now uses the canonical.

There is one caveat, though.

Google’s John Mueller clarified in a Reddit thread that Google will only crawl up to 5 redirects at any one time.

The only thing I’d watch out for is that you have less than 5 hops for URLs that are frequently crawled. With multiple hops, the main effect is that it’s a bit slower for users. Search engines just follow the redirect chain (for Google: up to 5 hops in the chain per crawl attempt).